Some Thoughts On The Ongoing Split Oak Forest Toll Road Invasion Discussion

One of the key conservation discussions in central Florida over the past few years has involved the proposal to allow a toll road to be built through a corner of a state conservation site called Split Oak Forest in Orange and Osceola counties north of us to accommodate more urban sprawl in the greater Orlando-Kissimmee megaplex. Osceola County officials are pushing for the idea. Orange County officials (and voters) are resisting it.

That discussion continued today in a feature story published in the Orlando Sentinel that posited that allowing the toll road to take a piece of the preserve in exchange for awarding conservation land on the other side of the cut and millions of dollars offered by development interests to manage the new fragment would make everything fine and preserve an important wildlife corridor for Florida panthers and other wildlife.

Unfortunately for that argument, the story included a map that illustrated that these hard-fought conservation lands were in fact the last green islands in a sea of current and proposed development in the surrounding private property that dominates the area.

In the background is a discussion that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which oversees the management of Split Oak, over whether to approve the road project proposed by the Central Florida Expressway Authority, which has already constructed a network of toll roads that have forever changed the character of what were once wild lands in this part of Florida.

Given the politics in Tallahassee, cynics might conclude that the fix is already in.

But there is an important principle involved in this discussion.

Several years ago, former Gov. Rick Scott floated an idea to surplus a bunch of state conservation lands, including Hilochee Wildlife Management Area in the Green Swam Area of Critical State Concern.

The idea fortunately did not go anywhere.

This proposal is more troubling. That is because it would amount to essentially surplusing state conservation land to accommodate commercial development interests, which would set a troubling precedent.

As was pointed out in this space earlier, the idea has local implications when you consider the long-game priorities of the road-building and development lobbies.

There is a project on the so-called transportation “needs” project list in Polk County that involves realigning Deen Still Road through the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern to create a new truck freight route through a state wildlife corridor with the goal of connecting U.S 27 and U.S. 98 via a shortcut that would run through the two state conservation lands–Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Hampton Tract and Collt Creek State Park—to complete the link.

As they say, if you give a mouse a cookie, he will ask for a glass of milk.

Be careful what you agree to give away,

Posted in Group Conservation Issues.